By Ch2 Sports Director Ed Kilgore
Hope it doesn't mean anything when we see that Mario Williams tweets he's now up to 300 pounds and doesn't know how it happened? Guess Bills fans shouldn't be too concerned though, because Williams claims he's in great shape and ready to give the Bills a big season.
This much is certain. If Williams does stay healthy and gives the Bills the kind of season they can reasonably expect from the NFL's top available free agent, their defense in 2012 will be markedly better and that will translate directly into more wins. One player can make that kind of difference to a defense, and the Bills haven't had a player like "Super" Mario since Bruce Smith helped lead the Bills to four straight Super Bowls. That's not to say Williams is, or will be, Smith, but his presence will certainly make everybody around him better.
Having Kyle Williams healthy again will certainly help, especially since he'll now be side by side with Marcell Dareus, who could be on the verge of stardom when he has some talent around him. Throw in pass rusher Mark Anderson on the other side of Williams and things get quite interesting.
Clearly, Mario is only one piece to gm Buddy Nix's puzzle, but it's becoming obvious to me anyway that Nix is the first guy Ralph Wilson has hired in awhile who really knows what he's doing and knows how to get where he wants to be. In head coach Chan Gailey, Nix has a true football soul mate who speaks his lingo. Literally. Bills fans are actually getting used to the southern twang of the pair, not to mention most the players they're drafting and signing come from the South.
As Buddy says, "we take players from the South because that's where the best players are". Hard to argue that one. How can you not like adding cornerback Stephon Gilmore and offensive tackle Cordy Glenn in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft? That's akin to having two first round picks, really, as Glenn will step right into the left tackle spot to protect Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side and Gilmore will benefit from what should be an improved pass rush to make plays. Gilmore will hopefully have the size and speed to stay up with Rob Gronkowski and other tough tight ends in the AFC East who usually give the Bills fits.
It's easy to say we like all the Bills draft picks, but clearly we won't know how good this draft is for awhile. At the very least, 4th round picks Nigel Bradham of Florida St. and Ron Brooks of LSU should help keep the Bills special teams "special" as they give the Bills much needed defensive depth as well.
Is T.J. Graham a reach in round 3? It'll be fun to see how that turns out, but having speed in the low 4.3's is something that makes you special, and if T.J. really a football player who runs track, as Nix suggests, rather than the other way around, the Bills will have a guy who can really help Stevie Johnson and others get some room to roam.
For all the great off season changes, it still comes down to this for the Bills in 2012. Can Ryan Fitzpatrick be the guy?
He'll have running back Fred Jackson healthy again, and we now know C.J. Spiller is a huge asset when used properly. Erik Wood will anchor what should be an improved offensive line, assuming Glenn can make the adjustment to the NFL. Even if that takes awhile, Fitz gets the ball out so well it won't matter nearly as much as it might to some teams.
It seems unfair that so much should depend on one player; a player who wasn't considered starting material earlier in his career, but that's the way it is in the NFL.
But there is reason for optimism, because Fitz has the intangible qualities needed to be successful, even though he has his limitations. Smart? Having a degree from Harvard isn't proof of intelligence, but that's a good start. Toughness? You better believe it. Fitz can take a hit and not miss a beat, a quality many former Bills qb's never had. Guts? Got that too, sometimes to his detriment, but he's not afraid to throw it downfield to force the issue. He doesn't take many sacks, and he doesn't cough it up in the rare moments he is hit.
In short, even with so much riding on Fitzpatrick, I really like the Bills chances to break that long playoff drought in 2012.